TV or PC? Study Highlights Differences Between Netflix And Hulu

With the race to transform the living room into a web-connected media hub accelerating, a new report shows the diverging viewer habits across two top streaming platforms, Netflix (NSDQ: NFLX) and Hulu. The majority of Netflix users watch movies and TV shows on their televisions through connected devices like gaming consoles and Blu-Ray players, according to Nielsen. The overwhelming majority of Hulu users, by contrast, view content directly on their computers.

The data suggests that Netflix is further along on the path toward incorporating streaming web programming into the digital living room.

There is a general consensus that the ultimate goal for home media consumption is a connected environment in which the various pieces of the puzzle — internet, TV, gaming consoles, and media players — are integrated, enabling users to consume the content of their choice on their televisions. This would mark a significant shift from the existing model in which cable and fiber companies like Comcast (NSDQ: CMCSA) and Verizon maintain a stranglehold on content delivery to the living room. Major players like Apple (NSDQ: AAPL) and Google (NSDQ: GOOG) are pushing into this space by offering web-connected set-top devices that bypass the traditional incumbents, but neither of these services has made substantial inroads as of yet.

The Nielsen data shows how viewership patterns are evolving.

The vast majority of Hulu viewers — 89 percent — watch content on their computers, compared to 42 percent of Netflix users, who are more likely to watch content through third party devices. Sixty-one percent of Netflix viewers watch programming via connected devices like Nintendo’s Wii system (25 percent), Sony’s PS3 (13 percent), and Microsoft’s XBox Live (12 percent) and Blu-Ray players (11 percent.) Only 10 percent of Hulu viewers use such devices to watch content: Wii (3 percent), PS3 (3 percent), and XBox (2 percent) and Blu-Ray (2 percent.)

As for iPad viewing, three percent of Netflix users watch on Apple’s popular tablet, compared to one percent for Hulu. Only users of subscription Hulu Plus service can watch on the iPad, but Nielsen did not distinguish between the free and premium versions of Hulu in its study.

The data also shows how viewers are using the two platforms to consume different types of content. Seventy-three percent of Hulu viewers consumer TV shows on the service, while only nine percent watch movies (18 percent consume both equally.) Only 11 percent of Netflix users watch television shows, by contrast, while 53 percent view movies (36 percent consume both equally.) That may reflect the different emphasis each had at the start: Hulu’s draw has been TV while Netflix was seen as a movie service.

Methodology: Nielsen completed more than 12,000 online interviews in March 2011, focusing on usage and attitudes for over-the-top video, particularly Netflix and Hulu.